|Project Management for Teams
Chemists who can get people to pull together are in demand.
Third, in the United Statesand increasingly in Europedownsizing has created a temporary labor force of skilled professionals able and available to work for companies on a project-by-project basis. Related to this is the fourth trend, increased corporate outsourcing. As companies, including chemical and drug companies, outsource various phases of their research, commercialization, and marketing, project management provides an excellent platform to manage these efforts. Although statistics of the growth of project management are hard to come by, it is noteworthy that, since 1990, membership of the Project Management Institute (Newtown Square, PA, www.pmi.org) has increased from 7700 to almost 70,000 in 2000. PMI now has 159 chapters in 45 countries.
The growing use of projects to organize and manage work has increased the demand for professionals, including chemists, engineers, and technicians, who understand the basic principles of project management and can practice them in their work teams and individual efforts. As laboratory chemists, many of us have called our work projects but have not truly organized and managed it as such. Yet doing so can improve our productivity and the quality of our results. Verzuh, president of The Versatile Company, a Seattle consulting firm, defines projects as all the work we do at one time and notes, Every project produces an outcome, and every project has a beginning and an end.
Planning a Project
Team members must play an important role in determining project milestones and completion dates. They often have a better idea than the project manager of how long it will take to achieve milestones. Business consultant Edward Ziv (Flash Creative Management, Hackensack, NJ) notes that team members are likely to be more committed to meeting deadlines when they helped set them.
Having reached agreement on project goals, the project manager and team must develop a clear plan to achieve those goals. The plan establishes responsibilities for the various phases of the work and sets milestones that serve as deadlines and demonstrations of progress. Payments to contracting firms are usually dependent on them meeting milestonesan incentive to work efficiently and effectively. By establishing clear responsibilities, each project participant knows what he or she is responsible for and when.
A good plan also provides the framework for estimating the resources necessary to accomplish each milestone. This aids the project manager in determining if his or her organization has the technical and financial resources necessary to achieve project goals. Insufficient technical expertise helps determine if phases of the work need to be outsourced. Insufficient financial resources can result in the organization borrowing funds to support the project or bringing in outside participants who financially contribute to the project. It can also mean the organization decides not to pursue the project.
Murphys law does apply to your project, Ziv advises. He counsels project managers to determine the most likely points at which something could go wrong and then prepare contingency plans should the anticipated problems arise.
The project manager must ensure that team members, sponsoring organizations providing funding, and the individuals and organizations using the project results all understand the answers to the above questions and what can be accomplished given the project staffing, budget, and timetable. Should any of these factors change, all stakeholders must agree to adapt the project as needed.
This consensus process requires the project manager to practice effective oral and written communication. Initially, projects must not be oversold. Customers who would have been delighted with a 20% improvement will be disappointed if they had been promised a 50% improvement. Promising achievement of an unrealistic goal will damage the project managers credibility with team members and sponsors and reduce their commitment to the project.
Should a project goal be promised in good faith but results later indicate that the goal is unrealistic, the project manager must inform the stakeholders promptly. This will reduce the negative consequences and also let stakeholders know if their investment in the project still makes sense.
In the previous example, one or more stakeholders may decide that they are not willing to continue their investment for a 20% improvement. The remaining stakeholders are left to decide whether or not to pursue the project on their own with more modest goals, recruit new project stakeholders to pursue more modest project goals, or make the added investments necessary to achieve the original project goals.
Staffing and Teamwork
Effective and constant communication is critical to keep projects on track. It also keeps team members apprised of others progress and of changes that can affect the project. The means of communication is less important than the requirement that it be effective. For example, geographic distance between team members can reduce or eliminate face-to-face meetings. In this case, videoconferencing or teleconferencing can be used for communicating. For routine updates and sharing data, e-mail is usually the best method.
A project road map or timeline with identified milestones will help everyone to gauge progress toward the final goal. Team members will feel more committed if they can meet intermediate, short-term goals that are clearly related to the projects overall success. Promptly inform team members and sponsors when the team achieves a milestoneand celebrate the major ones.
Rick M. Gross, corporate vice president and director of R&D for Dow Chemical Co. (Midland, MI), has observed, Technical innovation is the fuel for corporate growth and longevity. Companies that innovate at rapid rates will be well-positioned to lead in the 21st century. For these companies to achieve this high rate of innovation it will take a well-balanced team aligned with the business strategy and focused on the external marketplace. Effective project management helps assure this alignment and focus.
John K. Borchardt is a research chemist who has published more than 100 technical papers and has been awarded 30 U.S. patents. Send your comments or questions regarding this article to email@example.com or the Editorial Office, 1155 16th St N.W., Washington, DC 20036.
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